A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, January 6, 2008


I admit it: Whenever I'm in a bookstore, I check to see if I've been blurbed. That is, if I've been quoted on the cover of the paperback edition of a book I've reviewed. It's nice to see one's own words live on, even if the quote has been lifted from context, and one is identified only as "San Jose Mercury News" or "San Francisco Chronicle" or whatever paper published the review.

Occasionally they even mention your name. And sometimes they get it wrong. On the jacket of Gregory Curtis's excellent book about prehistoric artists, The Cave Painters, I found this quote from my review of his earlier book, Disarmed: The Story of the Venus de Milo:
"Absorbing ... Enormously entertaining ... Curtis is a writer of generous wit, who packs his book with delicious portraits of scholars, writers, artists, and politicians who contributed to the mythologizing of the Venus de Milo."
All very nice, and a good sampling of my opinion of the book. Except that the quote was attributed to:
--Chris Matthews, San Jose Mercury News
I mean, I don't usually mind when people get my name wrong. I gently inform them that it's Charles, not Charlie or Chuck. (I even used to let myself be known as Chuck, until my wife told me the nickname always made her think of hamburger meat.)

But Chris Matthews? Of all the bloviating newstalkers I think he's the one I least want to be identified with. Well, no, I wouldn't prefer to be confused with Limbaugh or O'Reilly or Hannity, but that's because their politics are so foul. Chris Matthews irks me because he's such an addle-brained sexist, who can't get over the fact that Hillary Clinton is a -- gasp! -- woman, and who has embarrassing man-crushes on macho men like McCain and Fred Thompson and -- at least around the time of "Mission Accomplished" -- George W. And I hate watching Keith Olbermann grit his teeth when he's forced to share an anchor desk with Chris M.

I e-mailed Knopf about the mistake, and a very contrite publicist said that the editor who messed it up sent her apologies. Apology accepted.

Where Do You Live, Exactly?

I don't normally respond to telephone surveys, but in an election year, I get kind of curious about what they're asking, so yesterday I agreed to participate in one. Unfortunately, it wasn't about whether I preferred Clinton or Edwards or Obama, but a survey of Mountain View residents about the development of a shopping center near us.

I did my duty, however, and stayed on the line answering questions that were clearly aimed at finding out whether we wanted a Home Depot to replace the failing Sears store in the center, and what it would take to persuade us that we do. I have no opinion one way or the other -- I don't shop at either. But one question broke me up: Do I agree or disagree with the statement "Mountain View should be more like Palo Alto"? The questioner even asked, "Why do people always laugh when I ask them that?"

Well, the truth is that I've lived in both Palo Alto and Mountain View, and the quality of life in both is about the same. To the outsider, Silicon Valley is one long indistinguishable suburban smear from Redwood City to San Jose. My brother-in-law, who visited us for the holidays, even asked me, "Does Mountain View have a government?" As if we depended on a volunteer fire department and neighborhood watch. I pointed out that we got our water through pipes and that we weren't reduced to kerosene lanterns, but he was still surprised that the population of Mountain View is something over 70,000.

But I knew exactly what the questioner meant. No one would have asked, "Should Mountain View be more like Los Altos (or Sunnyvale or Menlo Park)?"

The usual line about Mountain View is that it's Palo Alto without the attitude. It's also Palo Alto without the bureaucracy and the intense NIMBYism that has turned at least two potentially lucrative commercial sites into ghost shopping centers -- empty stores, awaiting replacement tenants who can jump all the approval hurdles.

I know this means nothing to the outside world. People who visit here are also surprised that Mountain View is a pancake-flat town -- not the Swiss village clinging to the mountainside that the name suggests. (There are mountains -- little ones -- that can be viewed from here.) The best you can get from outsiders is, "Oh yeah, isn't that where Apple has its headquarters?" To which the response is, "No, that's Cupertino. We've got Google."

It is, as I've always said, a nice place to live, but you wouldn't want to visit here. Unless you like to take naps.